When I moved to Lakeside some years ago, I managed to reduce the possessions of sixty years down to what would fit into a little delivery truck, 6’ wide, 6’ high, 7’ long. Boxes of beloved (or what I thought were beloved) books filled up over half of that limited space.
I remember listening to a sociologist on National Public Radio talk about Americans and their addiction to accumulating things. I had been raised in a simple household (two hundred years of Quakers on my father’s side) where I studied Emerson and Thoreau, and by temperament in tune with both I adopted many of their maxims. I took to heart Thoreau, “We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without,” and Emerson, “To be simple is to be great.”
That NPR sociologist I had tuned into said, however, that in England, people store their clutter and accumulations in their attics; in France, in their garages; in Germany in their basements; but in the United States we need all three—attics, garages, basements—to store our clutter, and often a rented storage unit as well.
Moving to another country forces us to reconsider “the things” of our lives, and some of us actually feel “lighter” (and happier) because we have let the burden of too many things slide off of our backs. In Walden, Thoreau writes that everything we own we must pay attention to, must give energy to. Another idea, out of Eastern thought, is: never own more things that you can list on a sheet of paper. And never own so many things that you do not remember everything you own. Some days, I think a beloved rice bowl, a pair of favorite chopsticks, and the beautiful moon might almost be enough.
We also accumulate thoughts, most of which are clutter, and periodically we need a thorough (or should I say Thoreau) cleansing of those thoughts, reducing them to a sacred few, rather than letting those that are not sacred pile up in disarray, to pull at us like old papers we have saved but will never look at again.
A recent Truth Journal, (www.csa-davis.org) based on the ideas of Paramahansa Yogananda), says to go on a mental cleansing diet, during which we consciously select our mental attitudes and thoughts. “For one week,” Truth Journal suggests, “cultivate an optimistic mental outlook by expecting the best outcome for everything you do and for all emerging events. Creatively imagine your near and distant future circumstances as being harmonious and satisfying. Avoid being judgmental or opinionated. Renounce anxiety and worry. Renounce gossip and meaningless talking. When you have experienced the positive results of a seven-day mental diet, permanently adopt it.”
Wow! Talk about cleaning your room!
A little pamphlet that has helped me through life is As a Man Thinketh, written over a hundred years ago by James Allen (available as a free download). Allen writes that “A man is literally what he thinks.” He adds, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” Another passage you might post on your morning mirror: “Let there be nothing within thee that is not very beautiful and very gentle, and there will be nothing without thee that is not beautiful and softened by the spell of thy presence.”